Why Your Goals Should Not Be SMART

For many professionals, we have been told over and over by our companies to make our goals SMART. SMART is an acrostic which stands for goal characteristics:

  • Specific – narrow enough to result in effective planning
  • Measurable – able to be tracked over time
  • Attainable – achievable and able to be completed
  • Realistic / Relevant – do what you are capable of
  • Time-bound – able to be completed within a deadline

For years I used SMART goals to outline my intended objectives each year within the roles that I held. I ensured that the goals that I created complied with these guidelines and were written so that both myself and my leader could track progress. The SMART approach worked great in environments that were stable, predicable, and when roles were very narrow and hierarchical. Most often than not, I nailed the goal. I was able to accomplish the task, and learned a lot along the way, but I was hesitant about the goals that I chose because I wanted to ensure that I would definitely be successful. These SMART goals were often tied to my performance evaluation at the end of the year, and any incentive that I received.

Contrast that to today. So much of the environment is changing, shifting and evolving on a daily basis. I like to compare it to trying to work on a laptop in the middle of a NBA finals game, while you receive emails about how your tasks are changing and while stakeholders are calling you expressing their disagreement with your efforts. How can one achieve goals in this environment, much less, maintain focus?

The answer might be found in an approach that Google champions, called OKR’s. OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. This a much more of a dynamic process and it incorporates elements of agility, stretching and growth into it. Google encourages employees to set ambitious goals, and wants to make sure that they are inspiring. This can mean that goals are somewhat out of your comfort zone because you are aiming higher. If someone in Google is consistently meeting their goals, they might be told that they need to think bigger!

Goals using this method are also graded. That seems a bit surprising considering that there is some flexibility that’s designed in. What would you think constitutes a good grade at Google? If you guessed 95% or above you would be wrong. A good grade for an OKR is about 60-70%! This ensures that people are setting goals that they are stretching to achieve, and acknowledges the progress that is made along the way. Oh and another interesting tidbit – goals and goal setting is not synonymous with employee evaluations. The behaviors and collaboration that they require from employees are considered to be separate from the goal setting process.

So next time you set a goal for yourself, think about it in a new way. What will stretch you? What can you focus on that will result in significant progress, learning and change? How can you get out of your comfort zone and do something different?

To Learn More: https://rework.withgoogle.com/subjects/goal-setting

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